The historic message of Easter is usually taught and preached about Calvary’s cross. This year I want us to consider Easter from a different perspective.
What happened a mile or two from the cross, and why is that message important for us to consider today?
We take groups to Israel and to what is called the Garden Tomb. Standing nearby, we look at what is now a bus parking lot and our guide asks us to glance to the left.
There is a steep, rocky hill that stands outside the original walls of Jerusalem. When you study the mountain, it looks like a skull. Many believe it to be the Calvary of Scripture. Tombs are located nearby, and one of them carries an encryption that causes biblical archeologists to believe it could be the tomb of Christ.
The visit to the Garden Tomb is usually one of my favorite moments of the trip. We can’t know for certain, but we might be standing where they took the body of Jesus and where the resurrection of Jesus took place.
Each time I’m there, it is a holy moment of gratitude for Jesus and for Easter.
Scattered throughout the area are other significant spots that are also part of the Easter story.
About two miles away is a spot we often point out from the bus. The place is called Akeldama, and tradition teaches it as the field where Judas hanged himself after selling his Savior for thirty pieces of silver. That field is also where it is believed that some of King Solomon’s wives sacrificed their babies to Baal. A monastery is there today.
Matthew records the story:
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”
And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.
But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me” (Matthew 27:3–10).
Judas is one of the finest testimonies to the reality of Jesus’ death.
When he saw that he had condemned Jesus to die, he desperately wanted to repent and stop the wrong. Judas’ sin is an example for everyone. Jesus chose to die for everyone, even his betrayer. There is no sin or sinner that could have stopped Jesus from accomplishing what he had come to do. He was called to become the final blood sacrifice for our salvation.
In many ways, every cemetery we drive past could be named Akeldama. We all deserved to die for our sins, but there are some in every cemetery who never died because they placed their faith in Jesus.
Somewhere in the Holy City
We take our tour groups to a place that could have been the Upper Room. We cannot know if that is the exact spot where Jesus held the Last Supper, but it is possible.
We do know this: The Apostle John was the only one of Jesus’ disciples who was at the cross of Calvary. Judas hanged himself, but there were ten more men from Jesus’ inner circle who disappeared from the Easter story after Jesus was condemned to die.
The others were possibly scattered throughout the city, or they may have hidden in the same Upper Room where they had been with Jesus. It is also possible they were afraid to return there because Judas knew the location of that room as well.
We do know the disciples were in Jerusalem together, after Jesus’ death. John, the Apostle who had been with Jesus at the cross wrote:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:19–23).
All of us have separated ourselves from Jesus at times, unwilling to stand for him or share the gospel story with others. We have all locked ourselves away from our faith at times, not wanting to share in the persecution that comes to those who walk closely with Jesus as their Lord. We can all remember that Jesus returned to each of these men who had chosen to walk away and told them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
Then he told them to “receive the Holy Spirit” and forgive others as they were forgiven. Jesus didn’t just forgive their choice to run from him. He told them they would receive the Holy Spirit so they had the power and ability to be brave disciples in the future.
The Presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the gift of Easter and the assurance that we have received the blessings of our salvation for each day, and for all eternity.
The Holy of Holies
One of the most significant moments in the Easter story occurred about a mile away from the cross. The moment Jesus died the earth shook, the skies darkened, and those who were standing on the Temple Mount saw an extraordinary sight. The veil that hung between the holy place and the holiest place of the temple was torn.
The only One who could have torn the veil that day was God. The veil was made of the finest linen and so thick it likely weighed more than a thousand pounds. It was torn from top to bottom, God to man.
When Jesus died, God sent an Easter message to everyone. The message: Everyone is now invited into his throne room and into his holy Presence. Everyone has access to God’s Shekinah glory, through faith in his Son. Jesus opened the path to God for all who would trust his sacrificial death to cover their sins.
The Easter message from the Temple Mount is a reminder of the prophetic words to Isaiah when God said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).
The message of Easter is the continued message God has given every generation since Adam and Eve. God wants us to know he is our Father and we are his beloved. There is nothing God wants more than to spend eternity with his children. Easter is still Isaiah’s message from God: “I will make a way in the wilderness” for you to find your way to my Presence.
The veil was torn. We can leave the cross of Calvary, walk past the tomb of Jesus, and climb to the highest point of the Temple Mount.
We have been invited into the Holy of Holies, God’s Presence.
Will you celebrate Easter by entering his throne room this week?
Jesus gave his life so that each of us could be filled with his Spirit and become his temple. His Shekinah glory indwells every Christian who will choose to be the light of the world.
May you and your families have a blessed and holy Easter celebration.